Cassandra Allen, urban homesteader


Cassandra Pelczynski Allen, a founding member of the Butchers Hill Association, died Saturday of rheumatoid arthritis at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The former Baltimorean was 42.

In 1977, Mrs. Allen, then an art teacher in the Baltimore County school system, and other potential urban homesteaders took a bus tour sponsored by city government through Baltimore neighborhoods, looking at houses to rehabilitate.

She became fascinated with Butchers Hill in East Baltimore, where during the 1880s the city's wealthy butchers erected large, spacious homes. She found a house on East Baltimore Street that had been converted into five apartments. She climbed to the top floor, kicked open the door to the roof, stepped out and was greeted with a spectacular view of the city.

"My God, this is beautiful," she recalled in a 1985 article in Baltimore Magazine. "There was this wonderful feeling of height and air and a great view of the harbor. I had no idea what I was doing, but I walked out and went to the South East Land Bank people and said I'd take it."

William Pencek, who moved to Butchers Hill at the same time and is chief of the office of preservation of the Maryland Historic Trust, said, "She was a very enthusiastic and vivacious promoter of the area and was a very talented and creative person.

"I mean, she moved in as a single woman and took on this humongous house and did a magnificent job of restoration," he said.

Her involvement in neighborhood affairs led to her becoming one of the founding members of the Butchers Hill Association. She organized the first house tour of the area in 1980 and staged Easter egg hunts for children in nearby Patterson Park.

She was a Baltimore City Fair volunteer for many years, and her Butchers Hill neighborhood booth won several awards at the event. She was also a volunteer art teacher at the Baltimore City Job Corps.

Known as Cass, she was born and reared in Overlea and attended St. Michael's School. She was a 1969 graduate of the Catholic High School of Baltimore and earned her bachelor's degree in 1973 from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

She was an art teacher at Catonsville Middle School for 20 years and chaired the art department. In 1993, she moved to Marblehead, Mass., with her husband, Gregory Allen, a computer software specialist whom she married in 1988.

"She loved Baltimore, the Orioles and watching Cal Ripken. She used to go to the ballpark just to stare at Cal," Mr. Allen said with a chuckle.

Mrs. Allen did watercolors and silk screening and enjoyed sailing in Marblehead and on the Chesapeake Bay.

A Mass of Christian burial was to be offered at 9:30 a.m. today at St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church, Belair Road and Willow Avenue, Overlea, with interment in St. Stanislaus Cemetery.

Other survivors include a brother, Casper Pelczynski of Fairfax, Va.; a sister, Rosemarie Kuhlman of Rosedale; and several nieces and cousins.

Memorial donations may be made to Catholic High School of Baltimore, 2800 Edison Highway, Baltimore 21213.

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